Will Flash ever work on mobile?

There’s been a couple of interesting posts on implementing Flash on mobile devices in the last few days. First, An Adobe Flash developer on why the iPad can’t use flash looks at the issue from a UI perspective – namely how some of the UI design elements we take for granted on desktops / laptops, such as mouse hover-over, are not native to the touch paradigm, so that even if Flash can run on the iPad / iPhone, a lot of Flash usages still would not function properly. Instead, either the mobile OSes come up with ways to emulate a mouse interface (or introduce a lot more complicated input methods), or existing Flash apps have to be redesigned with the mobile audience in mind. The first route goes against the touch paradigm, while the second route means a lot of work for developers (so it can almost be argued they might as well forego Flash altogether).

The second post shows a fairly slick youtube video of Flash on Android, through a Farmville demo:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9whFavOb2U&feature=player_embedded

If you look closely enough, you can see that 1) there is an issue with mouse hover-overs; 2) for a intensely interactive Flash app, there is “money left on the table” in the sense that it is not customized for touch and the controls feel clumsy (or maybe it’s just the demo person…).

Which leads me to the provocative title of this post. The whole demand for Flash on the iPhone and other mobile platforms is based on how it gives consumers the “real web.” However, if you think about the main uses of Flash, which is 1) video 2) games 3) ads, I would say that consumers don’t care about whether ads can be displayed, and as the above example illustrates, games (and other forms of highly interactive Flash usages) probably need to be redesigned anyway (which calls for custom apps). Which leaves video – and this is where the competitive landscape plays an interesting role. The biggest video site, Youtube, is owned by Google, and Google is definitely going for HTML5 + H.264 and moving away from Flash. (Tangent: Google is also getting some criticism for not truly supporting the open web, as H.264 is a licensed technology.)

So the bottom line is, while Flash has dominance on the web now, it definitely faces the danger of becoming completely irrelevant in the mobile space. This may not be a terrible thing – moving to a unified standard such as HTML5 and away from proprietary codecs – except of course for Adobe.

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